Savage Enterprises Publishing
Mike Aragona - Freelance Writer / Editor

In Conversation


Mark Shainblum — (November 1995) For some of you, the name Mark Shainblum brings up images like: Collaborator with Gabriel Morrissette, Northguard, or something about a stamp. For others, the response is: Mark who? To the former, I say, he is all that and a whole lot more. To the latter, I say, do your homework! (or keep an eye out for some BroadWay Comics titles in 1996!)

Those who know Mark also know that he is (I know you can see it coming!) a great guy (I keep telling you the comic biz is full of great guys! :)). Mark is a very witty man (as is obviously evident in AngloMan) who's fierce pride in his country exudes from him during political discussions (as I discovered during Mark's forced initiation into the Snatch Patrol).

Recently, Mark's greatest exposure has been with the release of the Fleur-de-Lys stamp (which was drawn by Gabriel) as part of the Canadian Super-Stamp promotion. It is on this topic that I have spoken with him. But, before we get to that interview, here is some more background on Mark, taken from his own site on the World Wide Web which can be reached at http://www.cyberus.ca/~mbs.

"Mark Shainblum -- writer and journalist -- was born in Montreal, Quebec, on April 1, 1963, and despite the repeated urgings of his family, still lives there. Mark is currently single, a surprising situation when you consider how handsome, well-spoken, and modest he is." (Didn't I tell you he was witty? -ma.)

Mark's credentials include a B.A. in English with a major in Creative Writing (Concordia 1995), and a Diploma in Education (McGill 1992). Primarily a professional writer, journalist, editor and publisher, Mark has worked in such diverse areas as comic books, science fiction, literary criticism, computers, and software technical writing.

"The two major projects in comics as of October 1995 are AngloMan, a Quebec political parody in comics form being published as a book by Nuage Editions of Montreal, and 'Till Death Do Us Part,' a very post-modern series from Broadway Comics best described as a superhero/domestic black comedy."

And now, the interview.


Mike Aragona:

When you first came up with the idea for Fleur De Lys, did you ever imagine that it would one day end up being such a public character?

Mark Shainblum:

Absolutely not. In fact, my artistic partner at the time, pre-Gabriel, tried to discourage me from using her in the series. He thought it was a silly idea, and that I was obsessed with flags and nationalism. I must say that I always liked the character and even had plans for spinning her off into her own book.

MA:

What were your reasons behind creating her? Was it to simply give Quebec its "own" superhero(ine)?

MS:

Yes, although, of course there have been other Quebecois superheroes. Pierre Fournier's Capitaine Kebek series from the early 1970's (revived in the mid-80's in Croc magazine) springs immediately to mind. Fleur-de-Lys more or less created herself. She was yin to Northguard's yang (or yang to his yin, whichever way is correct). Where he was moody and dark and depressive, she was upbeat and fun and confident. Where he was a Canadian nationalist, she was a Quebecois nationalist. Where he was a comic book nerd, she was out in the world winning Tae Kwon Do championships and the like.

MA:

Do you know what criteria the Canada Post committee used in deciding which Canadian superheroes they were going to put on their stamps? For example, why wasn't Northguard chosen? Cerebus?

MS:

They were looking for clearly recognizable Canadian heroic figures, which immediately rules out Cerebus, who isn't really a superhero anyway. It also immediately ruled out Canadian comics strips like "For Better or For Worse." Not necessarily fair, but that's what they were looking for. Northguard wasn't chosen, I believe, because they already had Captain Canuck and there's a certain visual similarity between the characters. It's also clear to me that they wanted something approximating a gender balance and a balance between English and French Canada. Not necessarily criteria you'd use in creating a comic book, but valid for something as representative of the country as a stamp series. There WAS some talk at one point of putting Northguard and Fleur-de-Lys together on the one stamp, but that got dropped.

MA:

Did you receive any monetary compensation for the use of your work?

MS:

Yes, but not an awful lot. A token payment, really. Hey! Are YOU going to say no to a postage stamp, regardless of what they're paying you?!

MA:

How positive an experience has this been for you?

MS:

It's been very positive in many ways, not the least of which has been a burst of publicity and media attention which will undoubtedly help my career and sales of Angloman (my latest collaboration with Gabriel). It also feels good to have the Northguard series acknowledged in this way. I really felt it had completely dropped off of peoples' radar screens at one point, and I never really managed to generate much publicity for it while it was coming out. On the other hand, it's been a little weird dealing with this stuff I wrote ten and eleven years ago. I was in a completely different psychological space then. In some ways it doesn't even feel like my own work. And I'm absolutely fed up of answering questions about the size of Fleur-de-Lys' BREASTS! We deliberately did not make her very buxom just to distinguish her from the run-of-the-mill superheroine, and yet reporters and bureaucrats seem absolutely obsessed with her bustline! I'm just flatly refusing to discuss it now.

MA:

With the sudden publicity on comic book superheroes, do you feel it may be feasible to bring back "Canuck Comics" (published by Matrix Graphics, reviewed by myself in Comicopia 25)? Do you think there could be a market for it now?

MS:

Well, there was a market for it in the first place. We sold a respectable number of copies when it came out in 1986 (although I STILL managed to lose money on it). John Bell would have to agree to update it, and I honestly don't know if he'd be interested. Not sure I'm interested in book publishing at the moment myself.

MA:

Will you be using this opportunity (the stamp release) to perhaps bring back Northguard or at least try to get Fleur De Lys published in her own book? Do you think there may be a market for a French version of FDL?

MS:

Been toying with a few ideas, especially since financial solvency seems just around the corner. Nothing concrete. I'm still not sure I have much left to say with these characters. I'd have to try to find out. Nothing worse than ruining a good series with a poor quality follow-up. If I find my heart's not in it, I'd rather leave the characters retired. On the other hand, I'd still like to try. We'll see. As for a French version, doubtful but slightly possible. The French-language market worldwide is somewhat resistant to superheroes, and Quebec is no exception. Heritage killed their entire line of DC and Marvel translations several years ago, and sporadic local attempts have all met with failure. Might be worth a shot, though. Who knows?

MA:

Do you think that October being "Super Stamp Month" was a positive experience in regards to comics in general? Was it a non-event?

MS:

Yes, it was positive. Undoubtedly. It made people who hadn't read a comic book in years think about superheroes. It drove home the Canadian contribution to the genre. It mainstreamed us in a way few things could have. It finally paid some overdue homage to people like Adrian Dingle (creator of Nelvana) and Les Barker (creator of Johnny Canuck). It'll be harder to knock comics in the future. This would have been inconceivable twenty or even ten years ago. Only banana republics put out stamps with cartoon characters. There's no going backwards now. I think this represents a generalized trend towards greater acceptance of all of the speculative forms of literature in Canada. Fifteen years ago Canadian SF, fantasy, horror and comics barely existed. There were two scholars of the field, John Bell and John Robert Colombo. There were a handful of books and the odd fanzine. There were vociferous arguments about whether or not a Canadian style of SF or comics even EXISTED. John Bell is now researching other areas because, he informs me, he prefers the fringe. And Canadian SF and comics aren't on the fringe any more. They're mainstream.

MA:

Anything you'd like to say about the Stamps that you haven't had the chance to mention up until now?

MS:

Not much. I just want to thank the Academy, and my cat Rover, and my parents, and my landlord, and the guy who rakes the leaves....
Mark Shainblum can be reached at www.northguard.com


(In Conversation (c) Mike Aragona. All rights reserved. No reproduction or retransmission of this article is granted without written permission of Mike Aragona)

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